Matthew Collier, in an article here reports that league wide attendance for the just completed hockey season was down 2.2% from the previous year. According to the article, attendance was down 5% at the the end of December, but recovered nicely in the second half of the season. This could be attributable to the popularity of the Winter Classic, interest generated by the Olympics, and the fact that a number of teams were involved in tight playoff races, according to Collier.
The Nashville Predators have always struggled with attendance numbers early in the season, and many attribute this to interest in college and professional football in our area. True to form, the Predators average attendance increased 7% in the second half of the season. Here are the attendance numbers for the Predators for the first half of the season along with percentage of capacity compared to the second half of the season:
First Half of the Season
Attendance: 13,731 Percent of Capacity: 80.2
Full Season Average
Attendance: 14,979 Percent of Capacity: 87.5
The Predators average attendance for the season was higher than the Avalanche (13,947); Coyotes (11,989); Thrashers (13,607); and Islanders (12,735). The average attendance was very close to the Devils (15,546); Panthers (15,146); and Blue Jackets (15,416).
How does the recently completed season compare to previous seasons? I'm glad you asked. Here are the year by year numbers for the franchise back to 2001:
2005 Lock out season
The growth of the Predators attendance in this "non-traditional" market has admittedly occurred in fits and starts for many reasons, not the least of which has been an absentee owner through the formative years of the franchise and a subsequently unsettled ownership position with the new ownership group. Also missing throughout the history of this franchise has been a strong base of corporate support. Unlike many franchises, the Predators rely heavily on ticket sales to individuals rather than corporations, which tend to be somewhat more consistent in their year over year purchase of tickets.
I had a conversation with Derek Perez before he left the Predators and his position as Director of Marketing, and he brought up an interesting point in our conversation. His point was that a hockey team had to survive and grow their fan base for about 15 years before there was a steady and consistent level of season ticket purchases on a year over year basis. According to Perez, a franchise needed at least one "generational turn" in its fan base to solidify the franchise. He went on to explain that the children of families that went to games had to get old enough to launch their careers and begin to buy their own tickets- the generational turn. Every franchise, according to Perez, sees a bump in their ticket sales around the 15 year mark, and he attributes this to the generational turn.
We all know that we are approaching the 15 year mark in the story of this franchise. More importantly, we as fans are seeing a growth in corporate support and a consistency in the renewal of individual ticket packages. This bodes well for the future of this team in this market.
Yes, the Predators have had to overcome some obstacles, perhaps more than any other new franchise. Those difficulties are not completely gone (think: Boots Del Biaggio's 27% interest in the team that is tied up in bankruptcy court). Yet this team continues to plug along and be successful on the ice, and that success is now translating to deeper and stronger ties to the Nashville business community and the team's fan base.
There is still progress to be made.Ties to the business community have to be strengthened and more corporate support is needed. Individual ticket sales have to remain strong. New fans must be developed. Inroads still have to be made into all areas of the community. Know this, that progress is being made.
To the naysayers that continue to parrot the tired mantra that hockey will not work in the south, that it won't work in Nashville, there are only two words to say to you: